Over the course of five seasons before last year the Oregon Ducks had won an average of 12 games per season. They never got a national title, and they made the championship game only once, but they were consistently among the very best teams in the country. Last year they were just 9-4. More significantly, they weren't scary. The offense was fine but not much more. The defense was horrible. They were just another team - fine, but not at all elite.
This is a very significant year for both the team and coach Mark Helfrich, then. It's not like they will be forgotten if they have another underwhelming year, but each year you fall further away from the top of the perch the harder it becomes to climb back up there. To be fair, the losses the team suffered last year were mostly reasonable - they were absolutely crushed by Utah but lost twice in overtime and lost at Michigan State by just a field goal. At their best, though, they would have come out on the right side of more of those games - especially against the likes of Utah, Washington State and even a TCU team hit by injuries.
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Key Additions and Departures
I have to start with the defense here. The unit was just plain awful last year. They allowed points in bulk and did no favors for their offense. I'll admit up front that I have been a Michigan fan all of my life, but when I heard that defensive coordinator Don Pellum, who needed to go and is now coaching the linebackers, had been replaced by Brady Hoke, I started laughing out loud, and I haven't really stopped since. Hoke was hopelessly out of his depth as head coach of the Wolverines. He was stubbornly steadfast in his ideas, and he showed that he knew nothing about the meaning of the word innovation. His players liked him, but they also underperformed horribly. It was a mess. Maybe he'll be better as a coordinator, but the last time he served in that role was at an Indiana high school in 1982. He has been a head coach since 2003, and mostly a defensive line coach before that. I just don't see it as a good hire - or at least not a confidence-inspiring one. Hoke does have some nice talent to work with, though stud defensive end DeForest Buckner is now with the 49ers. There is a bit of change, but the defense is largely intact from last year. Given how lousy they were, you have to question if that is a good thing - especially since they are moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Even without Hoke being in charge I would expect a transition like this would take a year to take hold at best.
For the second straight year, the Ducks have had issues with their QB pipeline and are relying on an FCS transfer to carry the load - this year it's Montana State's Dakota Prukop after Vernon Adams last year. He's a different QB, though - he doesn't pass as well as Adams, but he is a much more dynamic runner. Royce Freeman is back, so Prukop has a truly elite running back to rely on. The receivers are solid, too. The protection they will all get from the offensive line is up for debate, though. There are several changes - new players and changes of position - and they will be relying on a redshirt freshman and a juco import to try to make things work.
Oregon Ducks Schedule Analysis
If the Ducks don't start 4-0 then it is time to be concerned - UC Davis, Virginia, at Nebraska and Colorado make up a very manageable start. If they aren't sharp, though, that Nebraska game could be scary. Four of their five conference road games could have the potential to trip them up if they aren't sharp - Washington State, Cal, USC and Utah. The final road game at Oregon State should be smooth, though - if it isn't then there really are issues. At home they have big tests against Washington and Stanford, but they should be fine against Oregon State.
2016-17 Oregon Betting Odds and Trends
Bovada has Oregon at +4000 to win the national title, which has them as the 17th choice overall. They are tied with USC as the fourth choice to win the Pac-12 at +550, behind favored Stanford at +300 as well as UCLA and Washington. At +300 they are the third choice to win the Pac-12 North behind Stanford and Washington. BetOnline has the regular-season win total set at 8.5, with the "under" well favored at -140.
The team was essentially a break-even proposition against the spread last year - they were just 7-6 ATS. They were much better to bet on the total thanks to that defense, though, going "over" nine times in their 13 games.
2016-17 Oregon Predictions and College Football Picks
You might be surprised to hear this based on what you have read so far, but I'm just not that optimistic about this team right now. I only see five games they are very likely to win, with the other seven all in play. Three or four wins from those seven seems the most to hope for. It feels like another lost season in Eugene.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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